Inside Slant, Matchups, Quotes, Injuries, Etc

Their playoff hopes teetering on the brink of extinction, the Eagles will have a new face at quarterback Sunday when they travel to the Meadowlands to face the New York Giants.

Donovan McNabb, who aggravated his injured groin trying to undo the damage of a game-costing interception late in the fourth quarter of Monday night's 21-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, has been ruled out of the Giants game, and probably will be sidelined for a lot longer than that.

Replacing him will be Mike McMahon, who will be making just his eighth NFL start and his first since 2002 when he was with the Detroit Lions.

"It's a little more pressure," admitted McMahon, who signed with the Eagles as a free agent in the off-season and spent the first nine games as the team's No. 3 quarterback behind McNabb and Koy Detmer. "It's the real thing. You have to be ready. It's the situation I've been waiting for."

It's certainly not the situation the Eagles have been waiting for. A team that believed it was going to make it back to the Super Bowl this season has lost three in a row and sits in last place in the NFC East, which it has dominated for the last four years, with a 4-5 record.

Its best wide receiver, perhaps the best wide receiver in the league, Terrell Owens, is history after being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. And now, McNabb, who has struggled all season while playing with a painful sports hernia, also is on the sideline.

He was scheduled to be examined by a specialist on Thursday, and there's a good possibility he'll be advised to shut it down for the season and have surgery to repair the sports hernia.

Meanwhile, the Eagles offense, which has failed to put up more than 21 points in its past five games, now is in the hands of McMahon, who has thrown just 308 regular-season passes in 4 1/2 NFL seasons.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to win," said McMahon, who very nearly brought the Eagles back Monday night after replacing McNabb on the team's final possession. His perfectly thrown pass to rookie wideout Reggie Brown, which would have given the Eagles a first down inside the Dallas 20 and an easy game-winning field opportunity for David Akers, was dropped. He still managed to complete two passes and run for a 9-yard gain. Akers' desperation 60-yard field goal try was short. "I haven't started in a while, but it's not about starting. It's about going out and being productive in the offense."

While McMahon was the team's No. 3 quarterback, that was just a technicality because of the fact that Detmer is Akers' holder. It's always been assumed that if McNabb ever went down for any length of time, McMahon would be the starter.

"It's nothing against Koy," Reid said. "I feel like I have two quarterbacks that I trust. The one thing Mike gives you is a little more mobility." Not to mention a stronger, if often inaccurate, arm.

What the Eagles want most from McMahon on Sunday is as few mistakes as possible. The Giants are second in the NFC in takeaways with 25. They have one of the league's top pass-rushing tandems in ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, who have combined for 15 1/2 sacks.

"I've just got to go out and be productive," McMahon said. "Do the right thing with the football. Take care of it and don't turn it over. Just try to get the most out of every play."

SERIES HISTORY: 143rd meeting. Giants lead the series, 75-65-2. The Eagles have won the last four meetings and seven of the last eight.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Andy Reid has taken a lot of heat for his decision to throw the ball on the ill-fated second-and-7 play with 2:53 left in the game Monday night and the Eagles ahead 20-14. Donovan McNabb tried to hit wide receiver Reggie Brown on a sideline route but never saw Cowboys strong safety Roy Williams. McNabb's pass went straight to Williams, who returned it 46 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. "As we sit here today, I'm not feeling that great about (the call)," Reid said. "But do I think it was the right thing to do? Yeah. When you're trying to win the game, it was the right thing to do. But they covered it. They did a good job with it." Reid called the play "one of our lower-risk (pass) plays." Brown was running a go route and McNabb was supposed to throw the ball to his back shoulder. The problem was, McNabb never saw Williams, who was reading McNabb's eyes and floated over about 10 yards in front of Brown.

--Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard, who was voted to the Pro Bowl last season, continues to struggle. He gave up a 20-yard touchdown pass to Terry Glenn with 3:04 left in Monday's game that pulled the Cowboys to within six, 20-14. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson called a blitz on the first-down play. But they didn't execute it very well. "They double-moved Lito," Reid said. "We had a blitz on, but didn't get everybody rushing the passer like we needed to, and in the right spots. Lito was banking on (the rush getting to Drew Bledsoe). When you do a max blitz, as a corner, you bank on the fact that the blitz is going to get home and you can challenge that corner a little bit. But we didn't execute it very well."

--The grievance hearing on wide receiver Terrell Owens' four-game suspension will be held Friday at the Eagles' NovaCare training facility. Owens' grievance will be heard by arbitrator Richard Bloch, a Washington Redskins season ticket holder from D.C. Bloch only will make a determination on the fairness of the four-game suspension the Eagles levied on Owens for conduct detrimental to the team. He will not rule on whether the Eagles can prevent Owens from playing after the suspension is over, which they said they will do. What Owens would like is to be released, so that he could finish the season with another team. But for now, the Eagles have no interest in giving him his freedom.

--The Eagles have allowed just 19 sacks on 395 pass plays this season. That's just one sack every 20.8 pass plays, which is the best sacks-to-pass plays ratio by the team since 1981.

--The Eagles started using running back Brian Westbrook as a punt returner Monday night in the loss to Dallas. He had 22- and 23-yard returns.

Including his four punt returns, Westbrook had 25 touches in the Cowboys game. It's only the third time in his career that he's had 25 or more touches in a game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4-for-28 - The Eagles' ratio of scoring on first-quarter possessions this season. They've been outscored 69-28 in the first quarter.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is going to come out and play quarterback. That is what he is going to do; run the offense. I don't think anyone here is thinking (that he's a savior). We feel like he's a good quarterback and that he will come in and execute the offense." - Eagles coach Andy Reid on Mike McMahon

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Eagles signed quarterback Jeff Smoker to the practice squad Wednesday. It's likely that he'll be added to the 53-man roster in the next couple of days and serve as the No. 3 quarterback against the Giants on Sunday. Right now, the emergency quarterback behind starter Mike McMahon and Koy Detmer is tight end/long snapper Mike Bartrum.

The Eagles likely will use running back Brian Westbrook to return punts again Sunday. He had 22- and 23-yard returns Monday night against the Cowboys. The Eagles will continue to use sure-handed Reno Mahe on punts close to the goal line. PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Donovan McNabb will miss Sunday's game after aggravating his groin injury against the Cowboys. There's a good possibility he could be shut down for the season.

--QB Mike McMahon will make his eighth NFL start Sunday against the Giants. McMahon, who signed as a free agent with the Eagles in the off-season, will replace injured Donovan McNabb.

--TE L.J. Smith is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with knee and ankle sprains. He didn't practice Wednesday.

--RT Jon Runyan sat out practice Wednesday with knee and shoulder injuries, but is listed as probable for Sunday's game.

--DE N.D. Kalu, who missed last week's game with a shoulder injury, returned to practice Wednesday and is listed as probable for Sunday's game. He will rotate at right end with rookie Trent Cole.

GAME PLAN: The Eagles ran the ball 36 times in Monday night's loss to the Cowboys. With Mike McMahon replacing Donovan McNabb at quarterback Sunday, the Eagles again will try to run the ball at least 40 percent of the time. What they want most from McMahon is a minimal amount of mistakes. The Giants are second in the NFC in turnovers with 25.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Eagles FS Brian Dawkins vs. Giants TE Jeremy Shockey. Dawkins likely will spend the most time matched up against the dangerous Shockey.

--Eagles RT Jon Runyan vs. Giants LDE Michael Strahan. Runyan always has had his problems against Strahan, who has 7.5 sacks.

INJURY IMPACT: With QB Donovan McNabb out, the Eagles will go with Mike McMahon as their starter Sunday. He hasn't started a game since 2002, when he was with the Lions. ... TE L.J. Smith is questionable with knee and ankle sprains. The Eagles badly need him as an underneath weapon against the Giants, particularly with an inexperienced quarterback at the helm.

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